TNA has placed its testament of federalism as the Statement of its Policy at the Northern Provincial Council Election held on 11th October 2013. The voters have fully endorsed it and gave them 30 seats out of 38 seats of the Council.
When the Sinhala leaders were the protagonists of the concept of federal formula, the Tamils vehemently opposed it and insisted for parliamentary representation on the basis of communal interests within a unitary state.
Today, the tide has changed. The Tamils agitate for a federal form of government while the Sinhalese look at it with suspicion. They assume that federation may be a ploy to separation, rendering power sharing on the basis of a federal formula being impossible.
Federal concept of SWRD
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who was the only son of Maha Mudaliyar, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, was a brilliant student of Christ Church College, Oxford. He returned to the island in 1925 with the dawn of a federal concept into the mainstream of the political life of then Ceylon. In the same year, he founded a political party known as ‘Progressive National Party’ to achieve national emancipation.
The Progressive National Party had in its Constitution set out in detail the scope and nature of the federal system. It stated among other things that the federal system was to be based on the nine provinces, each province having complete autonomy and the Federal Government should be controlled by two Houses, namely, the “House of Senators’ and the ‘House of Commons’.
Today, the tide has changed. The Tamils agitate for a federal form of government while the Sinhalese look at it with suspicion. They assume that federation may be a ploy to separation, rendering power sharing on the basis of a federal formula impossible
He stated emphatically in the Constitution of the Progressive National Party that ‘in view of the existing differences among the people of our country, the only solution to the problem will be the adoption of a federal system of government’.
Bandaranaike declared then that ‘the majority of us feel that in view of the local conditions, particularly racial differences, the most satisfactory method to minimise and gradually remove such differences is a federal system of Government. Such a system of government has in other countries particularly in Switzerland, tended national unity. We feel that the present arrangements of nine provinces should remain and be the basis of the Federal System’.
He opposed a unitary Constitution for Ceylon and put forward the Federal Constitution, as it was more suitable for conditions prevailing in Ceylon.
He said that in a Federal Government, each unit had complete power over itself; yet, they could stand united and had one or two assemblies to discuss matters affecting the whole country. That was the form of Government in the United States.
All the self-governing dominions, Australia, South Africa and Canada had the same system. Switzerland afforded a better example for Ceylon. It was a small country, but three races lived there - French, Germans and Italians, yet, Switzerland was a country where the federal form of government was very successful. Each canton managed its own affairs. But questions of foreign affairs, finance and defence would be at a minimum to be dealt with by the Federal Assembly.
The Kandyan National Assembly led by A.Godamune and other patriots of that time advocated the federal system from the period of Donoughmore Commission till the Soulbury Commission.
Chelvanayagam broke away from the Tamil Congress and inaugurated the Federal Party on December 18, 1949 to ‘attain freedom of the Tamil speaking people of Ceylon
Tamil opposition – Jaffna Congress
When Bandaranaike was going around the island propagating the lofty principles of federalism and publishing articles in the national newspapers promoting the federal concept and the Kandyan National Assembly insisting on a federal form of government, the Tamils vehemently opposed the idea of federalism.
The non-violent agitation by Mahatma Gandhi to break India free from the British was inflaming the political inclination of the Jaffna youth to keenly watch the independence movement of India.
Under the leadership of S.H.Perinpanayagam, later, Principal of Hindu College, Kokkuvil, they formed the Jaffna Students’ Congress with a view to organising a movement embracing young people and all races creeds and castes to join in an earnest endeavour to do the little they could do for their country. The Jaffna Students’ Congress was later re-named as the Jaffna Youth Congress. They agitated for a unitary system of government, opposing a federal system.
Meanwhile, G.G.Ponnambalam mooted the fifty-fifty demand--a balanced representation within the unitary character of the Constitution. In 1937, when reforms for the Constitution was considered G.G.Ponnambalam advanced this formula before the Governor, Sir Andrew Caldecott. However, the Governor rejected his formula. Though he receded to the background for some time, the fifty-fifty demand was once again revived before the Soulbury Commission in 1944. S.J.V.Chelvanayagam was the Deputy Leader of the Tamil Congress. Ponnambalam never supported a federal system of government. He adopted a policy of ‘responsive co-operation’ within a framework of a unitary system.
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who was the only son of Maha Mudaliyar, Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike, was a brilliant student of Christ Church College, Oxford. He returned to the island in 1925 with the dawn of a federal concept into the mainstream of political life of then Ceylon
The first call for federalism
Tamil Congress founded a weekly political paper known as Suthanthiran’. An advertisement was published in the paper calling for a clerk with an attractive monthly salary of sixty rupees. The work of the clerk was to assist the Leader G.G.Ponnambalam and the Deputy Leader S.J.V.Chelvanayagam of the Tamil Congress in the preparation of the memorandum for the fifty-fifty demand to be submitted to the Soulbury Commission. A young person, Mylvaganam Nagarathinam was selected for this post.
The young Nagarathinam felt that the fifty-fifty demand within a unitary system would not help the minorities and he thought of a federal system that was in Switzerland. Without the knowledge of the leaders of the Tamil Congress, he forwarded a memorandum on the basis of federal system for Ceylon. His memorandum received great publicity in the newspapers and Nagarathinam was ordered to appear before the Congress Supremo G.G.Ponnambalam, Deputy S.J.V.Chelvanayagam and the Secretary S. Sivasubramaniam. G.G. gave him a dressing down and terminated his services summarily.
Mylvaganam Nagarathinam went before the Commission on January 30, 1945 and presented his federal formula.
The formation of F.P.
Chelvanayagam broke away from the Tamil Congress and inaugurated the Federal Party on December 18, 1949 to ‘attain freedom of the Tamil speaking people of Ceylon by the establishment of an autonomous Tamil unit on a linguistic basis within a framework of a federal union of Ceylon’. Though he was advocating a federal form of government, the Tamils did not support the federal cry of Chelvanayagam.
The General Elections held in 1952, about three years after the Federal Party was formed. Chelvanayakam was defeated at Kankesanthurai, not by a Tamil Congress candidate but by a United National Party candidate, S. Natesan, the son-in-law of Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan.
The Federal Party fielded seven candidates and had only managed to win two seats, Kopay and Trincomalee.
The language problem was gathering momentum in 1956. Bandaranaike wanted Sinhala only within twenty-four hours. The UNP too adopted ‘Sinhala Only’ at its party conference held at the Kelaniya Convention. Bandaranaike declared that ‘Sinhala Only’ would help the people of Sri Lanka to finally emerge as a stronger, more united and truly progressive people than ever before.
In fact, the Sinhala Only Act did not make Sri Lanka to ‘emerge as a stronger, more united’ nation. It made it a weaker nation, devastated by animosity and frustration. The view that the Sinhalese constituted the sole community in Sri Lanka should disappear from the majority community for Sri Lanka to emerge as a stronger nation.
The policy of ‘one country, one nation’ will certainly become a futile exercise if one fails to develop a solution to satisfy the multi-ethnic groups of Sri Lanka as there are three main groups, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims who are distinct, separate and communally very conscious people.
The aspirations of any one community cannot be suppressed whether by way of imposing the unitary mathematical democracy, coerce, democratic manipulations or parliamentary mechanisms.
For a nation-state, all politicians should join hands to create a healthy political atmosphere to promote a satisfactory Sinhalese-Tamil-Muslim partnership in the field of political power sharing.
The atavistic nightmare of Sri Lanka being divided by federalism was well answered by Bandaranaike himself at a mass rally held at Jaffna on 17th day of July 1926, presided by Dr. Issac Thambyah.
Bandaranaike declared at that Meeting that “A thousand and one objections could be raised against the system, but when the objections are dissipated, I am convinced that some form of Federal Government will be the only solution”. His prophetic words could now be validly directed against those in the South who oppose power sharing on the basis of a federal formula.
Will Sri Lanka ever move towards a federal solution? Time alone shall witness the sequel.